Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Woman 140 Years Old?

There is an intriguing article titled "A Woman 140 Years Old" in The Ohio Democrat (of New Philadelphia, Ohio] newspaper dated 21 June 1877, page 4 (on

The article reads:

"A Woman 140 Years Old

"The oldest human being in the world is Senora Peras Glen, a Mexican woman, who lives in San Gabriel Mission, California. She is 140 years old. He age is declared to be a matter of undisputed record. She was born in Lower California, and removed to San Diego in 1758, and her name was then registered on the books of the old mission. In 1770 she removed to San Gabriel Mission, where she has lived ever since in an adobe house, with only a ground floor. She eats only the plainest food, and has been a tobacco smoker all her life until fifteen years ago, when she turned over a new leaf, signed the anti-tobacco pledge, and quit drinking wine at the same time. She was married at thirteen, and has had eleven children. She is now living with her youngest - a baby of eighty-three. A photographer in Rochester, N.Y., has paid a visit to the ancient dame, and taken a series of photographic and stereoscopic views of her. It is a singular fact that her hair, once white as snow, is now turning black and silky. If she lives another half century or so, she will at this rate be restored to blooming girlhood again."

How about that? Can it possibly be true? But the Mission San Diego de Alcala was founded in 1769, and Mission San Gabriel Archangel in 1771. She had a daughter at age 57? This doesn't sound right.

Another newspaper article in the Los Angeles (CA) Herald dated 9 June 1878 notes:

"A Notable Death - The Oldest Woman in the world

"Eulalia Perez de Guilen, who it is claimed had reached the patriarchal age of 143 years, died at the residence of her daughter, at the Mission San Gabriel, Los Angeles county, on Friday nite. She was born at Loreto, Baja Cal., where she married and resided until she became the mother of two children. With her two children, one an infant at the breast, she accompanied her husband, who was a soldier, and who was a member of a small detachment of troops sent by land from Loreto to San Diego not long after the founding of missions in Alta California by the Franciscan friars. She remained in San Diego, where her husband was stationed, some years and until Mr. Guilen was transferred to the mission of San Gabriel, then comparatively a new mission, to which place she accompanied him. She was the mother of a large family of children. While living in San Diego she acted as midwife, and after coming to San Gabriel she followed that calling both at the mission and in this city. Some of her family or connection attempted, about two years ago, to take the old lady to the Centennial, but as other members of her family were unwilling to have their ancestor carried off to be shown as a curiosity, proceedings were instituted in the courts here to restrain the commission of what they looked upon as almost a sacrilegious act. Since then the old lady has lived with her daughter at the mission of San Gabriel."

Well, there's a different story - still over 140 years, but a lot more believable detail.

The Wikipedia entry for Mission San Gabriel Archangel says "... buried among the padres is centenarian Eulalia Perez de Guillén Mariné, the 'keeper of the keys' under Spanish rule; her grave is marked by a bench dedicated in her memory."

The Wikipedia biography of Eulalia Perez de Guilen indicates her birth year as 1766. When she died in 1878, she was actually about 112 years old. That's more believable.

I checked the 1850, 1860 and 1870 census indexes on Ancestry and didn't see an obvious listing for here.

The classical California history books tell parts of this story, but not as well as the Wikipedia entry does.

Isn't it funny how newspapers publish the wildest stories? And this was a good one!

UPDATED: One of the references in the Wikipedia entry is this:

California's Centenarian: Eulalia Pérez de Guillén National Genealogical Society Quarterly June 1962, Volume 50 Number 2 (Washington, DC: National Genealogical Society, 1962).


David Chambers said...

I created the Wikipedia article: she was my great-great-great-great grandmother. In our family, we hold that she lived to be 112 -- and that's what's written on the bench in Mission San Gabriel, which I have visited many times. I also found the record of her death in the Santa Ana courthouse (was there for another reason and happened to look it up), where her date of death is 1878 (same as marker at San Gabriel), with the simple explanation that she was 140 when she died.

Anonymous said...

I found an article in an 1856 religious Philadelphia newspaper 'The Banner of The Cross". It has an article "Statistics of the duration of human life. "The Census of 1850 shows that the oldest person living in the United States was 140. This person was an Indian woman, residing in North Carolina. In the same State was an Indian aged 125, a negro woman 111, rtwo black females 110 each, one mulatto male 120, and several white males and females aged from 106-114. In the parish of Lafayette, Lousianna, was a female black aged 120. In several of the States there were found persons, white and black aged from 110 to 115. There were in the United States in 1850, 2555 persons over 100 years. This shows that about one person in 9000 will be likely to live to that age. There are now about 20,000 persons in the United States who were living when the Declaration of Independence was signed, in 1776. They must necessarily be about 80 years old now, in order to have lived at that time. The French census of 1851, shows only 102 persons over 100 years old; though their total population was near 36,000,000. Old age is therefore, attained amoung us much more frequently than in France"

I found this article very interesting but can't find any information on the Indian woman from North Carolina who they say lived to 140.